It may be the middle of a dreary winter, but it's also nearing time for one of the calendar's most colorful celebrations -- both in China and across the globe.
Chinese New Year is approaching, and people are gearing up the Year of the Dog. The annual spring festival is the biggest holiday in China and begins this year on Friday, Feb. 16.
The event is based on the lunar calendar. The Chinese zodiac moves in a 12-year cycle; according to Asian astrology, the year you were born, and its corresponding animal determines your personality characteristics. For example, those born in the dog years are said to be responsible, honest, faithful, direct and trustworthy.
Across the world, Chinese New Year celebrations explode with color, light and sound -- firecrackers, traditional lion dances, door decorations and parades. Families have a special dinner on New Year's Eve and clean their houses to sweep away any bad fortune on New Year's Day. Children receive red envelopes stuffed with "lucky money."
The holiday is all about traditions and superstition -- and the chance to cleanse and start over, says Gurnee resident Ying Stoller, who grew up in China.
"People clean their homes to get rid of evil spirits," she says. "Hopefully, the New Year will bring them good fortune and good luck. People wear new clothes, especially kids."
Food, of course, takes center stage for the holiday. "Chinese New Year's dinner is the most important meal of the year," Stoller says. "All delicious food is included in this meal, especially items that represent good fortune and abundance."
In Stoller's family, it's tradition to do eight dishes. Below, she shares two recipes sure to signify a prosperous year ahead.
A fish dish is a mainstay and symbolizes prosperity. Sticky rice symbolizes family closeness, harmony and good fortune.
"The traditional eight ingredients include grains, nuts and dry fruit," she says. "Each ingredient has its own good meaning, including goodwill and fortune. So a bowl of eight treasure sticky rice is like a bowl of treasure."